Throughout my career as a research sociologist and executive coach I have worked with many conflict issues. Some of the conflicts were about miscommunication, others about processes and best practices. Other conflict issues were deeply personal, deliberate and harmful behaviors one ought to classify as “bullying” since bullying behaviors are now defined as be deliberate, abusive, nonphysical forms of aggression that undermine work and cause serious personal, physical, and psychological harm to an individual.
There is one type of bullying behavior that isn’t identified as evidence of bullying nor is it well documented. It is called serial bullying.
Serial bullying is when the bullying behavior targets one person until that person quits, retires, goes on medical leave or worse. Once that person is gone, the bully picks another target and repeats the attacks. This happens over and over.
Why Does Serial Bullying Happen?
There are several possible reasons, which can occur alone or in combination:
- The aggressor has created an excuse for every failure because he or she always has someone who is not working to capacity.
- The aggressor appears to be the victim of incompetent staff and manages to avoid consequences for failed management.
- The aggressor is afraid and has learned to use bullying as a way to handle stress.
- The employer tolerates or perhaps encourages bullying behavior as a management tactic.
I am sure there are other reasons but these are strongly associated with serial bullying I have handled for employers.
How Do We React to Serial Bullying?
Like most workplace bullying, most employees tend to blame the victim (target) for the bullying. We think he or should be able to cope with the attacks, should stand up for their rights, or is someone to blame for provoking the aggressor to be abusive. We always think that we would handle things differently, that we will not be targets. But, I urge you to think again. Bullying is a serial behavior. Today’s target is tomorrow’s ex-employee. But today’s bully needs another target. Will it be you?
I’m Kathleen Bartle, a strategic consultant on workplace conflict to executives worldwide for more than 20 years. My work brings individualized solutions to your teams’ lost productivity, loss of key personnel, low morale, and the high costs resulting from bullying, abrasive behaviors and interpersonal workplace conflicts. You can contact me here.
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